The Los Alamos National Laboratory this month expanded the use of a fluorescent bulb-crushing machine to handle waste bulbs lab-wide. It's a move that could save tens of thousands of dollars in waste disposal fees and will prevent mercury from escaping into the environment.
The device is called a Bulb Eater. It attaches to the top of a 55-gallon drum and works like a large food processor. Workers load fluorescent bulbs into a tube, which then sucks them through a propeller-like set of blades, pulverizing the bulbs.
"What you would see inside the drum is a fine glass powder and a couple of beat-up end caps. That's it," said Jim Stanton, a contractor working on the project for the Maintenance and Site Services (MSS) Division.
Fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury vapor and must be labeled, boxed, and disposed as a type of hazardous waste.
"Every box is a compliance point," Stanton said. "In a landfill, if you get enough fluorescent bulbs you eventually get that mercury leaking into the environment."
But the Bulb Eater captures the vapor in a three-stage filtering process and neutralizes it by converting the vapor to mercuric sulfide, which is non-hazardous.